An idle 17 acres in Rosscarbey, West Cork purchased in December 1994 sparked a new business venture for husband and wife duo Willie and Avril Allshire-Howe.
“Our land was rented to a neighbouring farmer. We didn’t know what we were going to do with the land and Willie had a job off-farm. The land was leased out for two years. ” Avril Allshire-Howe told Catherina of That’s Farming.
Carrigaline businessman Willie and Avril were left to ponder when it came to carving out progressive plans for their holding.
“I suggested the purchase of two pigs, but I come from a farm where there wasn’t a pig in sight!” Avril laughed.
“Willie’s parents looked at him and then me and questioned what I was leading him into. He was the only person I have ever met that read(while living in Cork city) and still reads all farming news publications from cover to cover.” Avril explained.
The adoration for outdoor pigs blossomed from there and the duo branched into outdoor pig production, identifying a major niche in the market.
“Originally, Willie started wholesaling the outdoor pigs and it really has all grown from there.” Avril explained.
A flourishing enterprise
Counting over two decades later, from what seemed like an occasional hobby to occupy idle land has flourished into a thriving enterprise. The Allshire's believe in structure when it comes to their business, with great attention to detail and a strong emphasis placed on traceability to give assurance to their growing customer base.
The business now carries two separate brand names, with a very distinct difference.
Caherbeg Free Range is only meat from their own herd of free-range outdoor pigs, while Rosscarbery Brand is based on sourcing pork in the locality, which is processed on the farm.
“We have our own processing unit on the farm and production never happens on the farm without a minimum of one member of the family there.” Avril explained.
With the continued growth of a multi-award winning operation, it has become a family act, as their two sons are now also at the helm, which has also provided a sense of direction and product diversification.
William completed his Leaving Certificate in June 2014 but was keen to grow the family business and delve further into Nutrition and Health. At this time the business was growing from strength-to-strength, having secured an International Award for Rosscarbery Traditional Black and White Pudding previous to this.
“William convinced his father that he really needed to make gluten-free black and white pudding, so that took twelve months to bring it to the same standard as our existing pudding,” Avril said.
Maurice followed in the footsteps of his older brother, sitting his Leaving Certificate in June 2016, with a very similar vision to William.
"Maurice and his father attended a Meat Industry Exhibition in Birmingham which helped Maurice to focus on the product he wanted to produce, Biltong.” Avril.
“They both got the CAO points that they needed to go to college if they want to.” Avril added.
William’s biltong is an ambient meat product made with certified Irish Angus beef, with added seaweed, species, herbs and some salt, with a 50% protein content. The product was only launched in October 2017 and is primarily rolling out in many Super Valu and other stores as well as gyms. It crosses the boundaries as it may be found in Health Food; Savoury Snack & Food Academy section.
“He worked on the packaging to get the right size, so that it could fit in a pocket in a handbag or pockets of jeans.”
The family is unique in the sense that they offer a unique service to their dedicated and returning client base.
"I keep a record of all Ham & Spiced Beef orders at Christmas orders to help our customers year to year. (Very often people won’t remember how much they bought but they will know whether it was enough or not.) ” Avril said.
As one can appreciate, the Allshire family has acquired their fair share of accolades down through the years, with several national and international awards under the belt.
Willie started off the winning streak by scooping the first ever Irish medal for Black Pudding in a Confrérie des Chevaliers du Goute-Boudiner- the biggest European Black Pudding competition and scooped gold ten years ago.
“In 2017, the only Irish product in that competition to get any medal was our Rosscarbery Gluten-free and it got gold also.” Avril explained.
Success doesn’t stop here for the family and they secured a prestigious title-Artisan producer of the Year for West Cork a number of years ago and in 2016, they secured the Innovation and Enterprise Award in the Southern Star Celtic Ross Hotel West Cork Farm Awards.
If running their pork and beef enterprise wasn’t enough to keep the Allshire family on their feet, they have recently jumped on board West Cork Farm Tours.
School visits to their farm have always been informal but an opportunity arose for the family to become one of five working host farms and they couldn’t but take it!
"We have welcomed Ladies groups, international farmers; Black and White Pudding Fraternities; schools and colleges to the farm over the years but it’s always by appointment. All five members of West Cork Farm Tours are working farms so not always available to the public. We are working with three family-owned hotels: The Celtic Ross; Fernhill House & The Emmet so their guests may have the opportunity to meet us, see our farms and hear our stories" Avril said.
“We want to show people a sight of honest-to-goodness West Cork farming life. We want to show people the reality of our farm about the brand and the work at we do.” Avril added.
Aside from their main enterprise, the family have also woodland and Willie is a small scale timber processor – blocks & kindling.
"As a result of his interest in afforestation, he has been a member of the Irish Timber Growers Association for the past few years and as of 2017 is a council member of I.T.G.A." Avril explained.
The Bright Future
The Allshire are ready to take their enterprise to the next level, with progressive plans in the pipeline.
“We want to build and complete a 50-metre café demo unit because I also do a bit of cooking to show people normal recipes. I am not a chef. I am a Mum who lives two and a half miles from the nearest shop so I have to be creative.” Avril said.
“We love meeting people and showing them the diversity on our farm and how we make a living out of 17 acres living and working where we love to live.” Avril concluded.
If you want to get your hands on this award-winning produce, a delivery service is operated nationwide and orders should be placed in advance.